Uh oh, he’s at it again.
Sufjan Stevens, arguably the most contentious figure in today’s indie realm, is nothing if not ambitious. That’s something we all should be able to agree on. Still, people seem pretty split on whether he’s a creative visionary, or if he’s a pretentious douchebag, and as usual on such matters of staggering importance, I’m not siding with either camp. Sure, his statements about “creative crises” and “no longer hav[ing] faith in the song” are laughable and the whole angel wings gimmick reeks of egoism, but he’s written some incredible songs, and after five years, Illinois is holding up pretty damn well.
But the 50 States Project and the Steve-Reich-but-not-revolutionary classical piece aside, Stevens may have outdone himself this time. His upcoming album, The Age of Adz (pronounced “odds,” and it’s never a good sign if an artist needs to designate how a word in the album title is pronounced) concludes with a 25-minute long song, titled “Impossible Soul.” Oh, boy.
A close friend of mine first brought this to my attention and suggested I conduct a play-by-play of the tune, similar to something he did the first time he listened to it. I suddenly felt a perverse interest come about; after all, I still love bombastic, proggy schlock, but would this be too much? Let’s find out…
0:00 – Some soft organ chords. He starts out slowly…
0:20 – Oh man, Sufjan’s jumped the reverb bandwagon.
0:46 – I realize that the melody sounds a little bit like The Foo Fighters’ “Everlong”
1:50 – Woodwinds! Lack of surprise!
2:16 – Electric guitar solo! Genuine surprise!
3:32 – If the song ended now, it’d be a perfectly passable, lovely Sufjan Stevens tune. There are still 22 minutes left in it though…
3:58 – Either a woman is singing or Sufjan’s gone falsetto again.
5:34 – Being assaulted by glitchy synth-tones. I’d say it’s distracting but I’m not sure what it’s distracting me from. All I know is that I’m unsure whether those are trombones or keyboards.
6:06 – Lyrics: “Don’t be distracted.” I’m trying!
7:03 – Call and response with creepy chorus. Reminds me of the conversation with the computer at the end of ELP’s “Karn Evil 9”
7:58 – Daft Punk with the New York Philharmonic?
8:43 – “Don’t be distracted.” Not listening anymore. Checking Facebook. What does all this “I like it” stuff mean?
10:00 – Finally, the robot synth army begins to calm down a little bit.
10:30 – Oh, Jesus Christ. Autotune. F—ing Autotune. There are 15 minutes left.
12:12 – Autotune falsetto and the return of the robot synth army. My problem with Autotune is that just because people have begun to use it artfully, that doesn’t necessarily make it any less annoying.
12:37 – Some sort of chanting in the background. That’s kinda cool.
13:02 – If I wanted to listen to of Montreal’s lousy new album… oh wait, why would I?
13:54 – Life-affirming group chanting. Slightly less cool.
14:02 – “Better hit yourself?” Hmm?
16:53 – More of the same for the last three minutes. Catchy, but I’ve yet to decide if it’s a good kind of catchy.
18:35 – Vocoders. As if you thought he’d pulled every trick out of the bag already…
20:04 – I get it, Sufjan. “Boy, we can do much more together.” That’s cute, but I don’t need to hear it a hundred times.
20:35 – The robot army moves us along but I have no idea where. Five minutes left.
21:03 – Stop singing about how we can do much more together!
22:10 – Droooooooooooooone. Three minutes left.
22:24 – Acoustic guitar? Genuine surprise.
22:53 – Has the robot army finally left us for good? This actually sounds like an old-fashioned Sufjan song.
22:30 – I give up.
25:35 – Fade out and end.
So this is something beyond judgment, I suppose. On one hand, Stevens should be commended for such ambitions, and given that no one of his caliber is pulling anything like this, creating an indie-prog epic is a laudable task. Still, where do we draw lines, if we even draw them at all? This is a personal preference. The Age of Adz, all in all, is a fine album, one that I have yet to wrap my head around, that could do without all the glitchy, synthy sounds, that is still bursting with interesting ideas. Above all, it sounds fresh in today’s popular musical climate. I do know for a fact though, that it has exhausted me. I need a drink.